FIFA pleads with World Cup nations to ‘focus on football’ in Qatar

FIFA has written to World Cup teams urging them to focus on the soccer in Qatar and not let the sport be dragged into ideological or political “battles”.

The letter from FIFA president Gianni Infantino and the governing body’s secretary general Fatma Samoura follows a number of protests made by World Cup teams, on issues ranging from LGBTIQ rights to concerns over the treatment of migrant workers.

“Please, let’s now focus on the football!” Sky News quoted Infantino and Samoura as saying in the letter to the 32 nations contesting the World Cup.

“We know football does not live in a vacuum and we are equally aware that there are many challenges and difficulties of a political nature all around the world.

“But please do not allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists.”

FIFA was unable to provide immediate comment when contacted by Reuters.

The World Cup, the first held in the Middle East, starts on Nov. 20.

“If Gianni Infantino wants the world to ‘focus on the football’ there is a simple solution: FIFA could finally start tackling the serious human rights issues rather than brushing them under the carpet,” Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Head of Economic and Social Justice, said in a statement.

Amnesty and other rights groups have led calls for FIFA to compensate migrant workers in Qatar for human rights abuses by setting aside $440 million, matching the World Cup prize money.

“A first step would be publicly committing to the establishment of a fund to compensate migrant workers before the tournament kicks off and ensuring that LGBT people do not face discrimination or harassment,” Cockburn added.

“It is astonishing they still have not done so. Gianni Infantino is right to say that ‘football does not exist in a vacuum’.

“Hundreds of thousands of workers have faced abuses to make this tournament possible and their rights cannot be forgotten or dismissed. They deserve justice and compensation, not empty words, and time is running out.”

Australia’s soccer team last week spoke out against Qatar’s record on human rights and same-sex relationships. Read full story

Denmark’s players will travel to the World Cup without their families as a protest against the country’s human rights record, the Danish FA (DBU) told local media last month. Read full story

Football Australia confirmed the receipt of the letter from FIFA on Friday, but declined further comment. Reuters also contacted the DBU for comment.

World Cup organisers have said that everyone, no matter their sexual orientation or background, is welcome, while also warning against public displays of affection.

Qatar has acknowledged there are “gaps” in its labour system but the World Cup has allowed the country to make progress on worker rights. Read full story

“At FIFA, we try to respect all opinions and beliefs, without handing out moral lessons to the rest of the world,” Infantino said in the letter, according to Sky.

“One of the great strengths of the world is indeed its very diversity, and if inclusion means anything, it means having respect for that diversity. No one people or culture or nation is ‘better’ than any other.

“This principle is the very foundation stone of mutual respect and non-discrimination. And this is also one of the core values of football. So, please let’s all remember that and let football take centre stage.”

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